Last Friday a young man came to the ASRC asking for a job, any job. He had spent 16 months locked up on Christmas Island before being released in Melbourne on a Bridging Visa. He is living in a private rental flat with others and is looking for work.
He went to Red Cross to pick up his ASAS living allowance (89% of lowest Centrelink payment). They told him that this was the last money he would receive. He wept as he said to me, “I don’t ask you for anything just a job.”
This will happen across Australia. Red Cross have been instructed by DIAC to summarily cut the allowances of 61 people in Melbourne. They will receive a letter after the event but the allowance is cut as of now.
The people who have taken out leases and are paying rent will have no money from now on for shelter or food. The asylum seeker agencies met with DIAC today seeking a reprieve. It was clear that their reason for meeting us was to let us vent and give nothing. We listened to the spiel telling us to encourage “self agency” and help the people to see their options and make decisions to “move forward”. These men have been denied all access to funded employment services and language classes. The ASRC is the only employment service for asylum seekers and we are struggling to meet the demand with a waiting list of 75.
The justification for this sudden change is that community based asylum seekers (air arrivals) do not get ASAS after RRT so the people who have arrived by boat are not to get it either. The problem is that they are two different cohorts. The people who came by boat had a different refugee process, one so unfair and lacking in justice that it was stopped on March 24 this year. This IMR process was replaced by the RRT process, the same process as for those who arrive by air. However nothing has been put in place to remedy the unfairness and injustice to the boat people whose claims were assessed on the now discredited IMR system. The people who have come by boat have been harmed and institutionalised by long term detention and are mentally and physically debilitated by it.
These “clients” are being encouraged to consider their options towards a removals pathway even though some still have cases in the courts. Some come from countries which will not accept them back whether voluntary or involuntary (Iraq has returned planeloads of refugees sent from UK and Norway last week).
These men were released from detention because they were vulnerable and suffering. Now they are being placed in a position of potential homelessness and destitution in an effort to drive them home. Our fear is that this pressure could result in suicides. We remember Dr Habib who was in the community on a TPV when another government, in an effort to scare him into going home sent him a letter. He went out into the night alone, climbed an electric pole and electrocuted himself in desperation.